Engaging stakeholders to reach MDG on vampire reduction -- using wooden stakes

From the blog New Beat

Reaching out to stakeholders in the international arena is now considered crucial to building sustainable development coalitions with timeliness, scale and impact. What has remained unexplored in the field is liaising with stakeholders for a different goal, albeit often with the same means: to use the wooden stakes they hold to end vampire insurrections.

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Who knew that the aid organization most responsive to feedback is: the military?

I didn't see this one coming: that the nicest responses I have ever gotten to criticisms made on this blog came from military officers (both this time and on one previous occasion). I didn't know that a command-and-control ARMY would prove about 1 trillion times more responsive than the civilians at USAID. I didn't know that a Lieutenant General would handle criticism better than a Starbucks PR executivewho flamed out in response to another blog post (what DO they teach in PR school?) . OK, admittedly, the military hasn't changed anything yet that I know of, but at least they've engaged in a dialogue. Anyway I received this email from Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV in response to forwarding my mockery of the Powerpoint slides on nation-building in Afghanistan (also known as counter-insurgency or COIN):

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED Caveats: NONE


do appreciate you passing this along to us in Kabul.  Gave up command of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth on 2 November and immediately deployed to Afghanistan.  On 21 November assumed command here of the NATO Training Mission -- Afghanistan (which we activated at the same time) and Commanding General of CSTC-A.  That said -- your blog hits home for all of us here.

Know that the ISAF team is looking at a variety of different products, including those you highlighted in your tweet.  What I can tell you is that I have oversight and responsibility for our COIN Academy here and we are not using these slides in our instruction.  There is a place for it among technical folks -- but not for the practitioner on the ground. Would be glad to share more about our Academy -- but suffice it to say, these are not our slides - and not how we teach COIN.

That said -- if anything, the slides reveal the sheer complexity of the problem we are all contending with -- at times so complex that it proves elusive to social mapping, as you can see.  Do want you to know that those are only one of many items considered by the senior staff in their analysis, as we focus in on how best to proceed in our mission.  Believe that as we leverage the best minds in this business -- of which you are a vital element -- the future prospects for Afghanistan will become brighter.

As an advocate for the practice, want you to know that your blogs are a welcome -- and refreshing -- presence.  This is essential to our growth as an institution, and to our ability to learn.  Your efforts are greatly appreciated, believe me.

Best to you and your family this holiday season.  We have snow in Afghanistan, so at least we'll have a white Christmas here, although far from home and loved ones.

Best -- Bill

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Where was the person in the room who laughed out loud?




We now have the full Pentagon nation-building plan for Afghanistan that led up to the slide featured in an earlier post . (hat tip to Chris Coyne). The slides are credited to PA Consulting Group, a leading London-based firm whose motto is "Questions. Answered." A possibly relevant line in their self-description is that they "supported the delivery of multibillion-dollar defence projects."

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At least there's one good nation-builder for Afghanistan

As readers of this blog know, I am deeply opposed to the military escalation and deluded attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan. Yet some individuals can do good even in the middle of an overall bad policy, and if there is any one such individual from the outside I would bet on, it would probably be Clare Lockhart. clare-lockhart-1209-lg

The current issue of Esquire has a good cheat sheet on Clare. Amidst the usual Esquire fare of scantily-clad, objectified-for-maximizing-male-readership 22-year-old "women we love," here's a serious intellectual who clocked in at #20 on the Foreign Policy Top Global Thinkers.

Clare also passed with flying colors the highly unscientific gut-feelings-check during a fascinating lunch discussion a couple months ago.

Clare insists on such common sense as: keep large foreign bureaucracies out of Kabul, and give aid and the power it coveys directly to local villagers. It's too late for her good insights on not cutting corners to reduce election fraud, which disastrously happened after her advice was disregarded. Maybe that will teach them a lesson to listen to Clare more this time around: we can desperately hope.

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Day of mourning for military Development

afghan warNews sources say that President Obama will choose “escalate” with additional troops for Afghanistan in his speech at West Point tonight. I and many like-minded individuals find this disastrous. “Like-minded” means that critics of top-down state plans for economic development are also not fans of top-down state plans for military development. If the Left likes the first, and the Right likes the second, that just shows you how incoherent Left and Right are.

Will Wilkinson has a great column mocking the anti-PC Conservatives for mindless Conservative PC on militarism:

The public praise of martial virtue encourages a martial culture in which war is seen not as a gruesome tragedy but as a stage for the performance of righteous valor. … applause only reinforces a deeply ingrained American habit of easy patriotism so mindless and self-satisfied that we cannot see the brazen moral relativism of it. This is our war, so it is just.

And when you military claim the sanction of some development economists for armed intervention, I think other development economists have a right to fight back. If you military are going to do development, then we will do military. If you think you can impose conditions on Karzai for military aid, why don’t you read some of our articles on the failure of conditions for economic aid.

The somewhat clumsy words of George Kennan during the Vietnam War have seemed eerily appropriate to many reviewers recently:

If we can find nothing better to do than embark upon a further open-ended increase in the level of our commitment simply because the alternatives seem humiliating and frustrating, one will have to ask whether we have not become enslaved to the dynamics of a single unmanageable situation - to the point where we have lost much of the power of initiative and control over our own policy, not just locally but on a world scale.

And lastly the masterful essay by Garry Wills in a recent New York Review of Books:

We sink deeper into blood, with no foreseeable end in sight…Some leader has to break the spell before costs mount further while our wars are passed from President to President…Barack Obama said he would rather be a one-term president than give up on his goals. Here is a goal no other president we can imagine would have a possibility of reaching. Presidents who just kick the can down the road are easy to come by. Lost lives and limbs are not.

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Will Aid Escalation Finally Crash in the Mountains of Afghanistan?

There has been a remarkable escalation in the scale and intrusiveness of aid interventions over the years (this was one of the major conclusions of my survey paper on aid to Africa). It seems to be reaching the reductio al absurdum in the current debate on whether to escalate US intervention in Afghanistan.

Let’s review the record:

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Paul Romer on Charter Cities: All That's Holding Us Back is a Failure of Imagination

Paul Romer, an economist and expert on economic growth, is the man behind the concept of Charter Cities. In this interview, we asked him about his objectives, the odds of achieving international consensus, and economic policy-making and voting rights in the proposed Charter Cities. Q: Describe briefly your Charter Cities idea.

A: The concept of a charter city is very flexible. The key elements that all the different versions share are an unoccupied piece of land and a charter. The land could be in a rich or a poor country. The charter could take many forms. The human, material, and financial resources needed to build a new city will follow, attracted by the chance to work together under the good rules that the charter specifies.

Action by one or more existing governments is required to create a charter city. One government provides land, and one or more governments grant the charter and stand ready to enforce it.

Q. What are your objectives for Charter Cities?

A. Economists as diverse as Gary Becker, Joseph Stiglitz, and Amartya Sen agree that poverty reduction is one of the most important practical benefits that can come from careful economic analysis. I agree.

To understand how to alleviate poverty, we must understand growth and progress. Progress comes from new and better ideas. Ideas come in two flavors, technologies and rules. To foster growth and development, the world’s poorest residents need an opportunity to copy existing technologies and existing rules that are known to work well.

In my talks, I use a picture of students studying under streetlights to illustrate how bad rules keep people from having basics like light at home. By replacing bad rules with known good rules, families who want well-lit homes can connect with the utility companies who want to provide it to them.

This type of mutually beneficial exchange, not charity, is the key to ending global poverty. Good rules give people access to existing technologies through this kind of exchange. People know what many of the good rules are but find it exceedingly difficult to make changes, especially from within systems of bad rules. Charter cities accelerate the adoption of known good rules, offering a truly global win-win solution.

By giving people access to better rules and the gains from exchange, charter cities reduce global poverty. They give people the chance to escape from precarious and harmful subsistence agriculture or dangerous urban slums. They let people move to a place with rules that provide security, economic opportunity, and improved quality of life.

Q. International action is not forthcoming on things like climate change and preventing genocide; do you think it would be difficult to get international agreement on Charter Cities?

A. While international cooperation between many nations is important for some problems, charter cities can be started with the cooperation of just a few nations. Consider a hypothetical two-nation agreement between Australia and Indonesia. Or consider the actual negotiations between China and the United Kingdom in the 1980s, which specified the charter under which Hong Kong would operate for 50 years after the handover of control back to the Chinese.

The proliferation and extension of bilateral and regional trade agreements in the midst of the stalled Doha Development Round demonstrates a point that is hopeful for charter cities even if it’s frustrating for global trade: It’s much easier to negotiate agreements with few rather than many nations.

Q. There is no consensus on economic policies among the many NGOs, academics and aid agencies (World Bank, UN) that comment on aid policy (e.g. free market proponents vs. those who worry about corporate exploitation of cheap labor). Are you worried that this could complicate policy-making in Charter Cities?

A. Deng Xiaoping said, "It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white so long as it catches mice." There may be several different sets of rules that lead to successful development. It matters less which set of rules a city-state adopts so long as they work.

Consider the difference between the development strategies of South Korea and Singapore. To get access to foreign technology, Singapore relied on foreign direct investment while South Korea developed domestic firms that could copy or license production techniques used abroad. Both strategies worked, but a random mix of the rules governing each could have missed important opportunities for growth and development.

People can and will argue about the relative merits of these two strategies, but whichever one a charter city adopts, the associated rules have to be coherent.

Ultimately, we can expect to see many charter cities that adopt different sets of rules. Competition between them will be good for the poor and for the world’s understanding of what works.

Q. Why would Charter City residents not be allowed to vote on who is in charge and what policies they make?

A. They could. The charter cities idea does not put any constraints on the local political structure, nor does it preclude changes in structure over time. It does force us to think carefully about the right way to design the local political system.

Societies always put limits and impose structure on democracy. In the United States, people can't vote to take property away from others or restrict speech. People with green cards and people under the age of 18 can’t vote at all. We can't vote on what the Fed Fund rate should be this week. So it's not enough to say that we believe in voting. You have to be more specific about the details.

Thinking about charter cities gets us to consider new options. Green card holders are an interesting example. I lived for a year in Canada as a resident who couldn't vote. It worked for me. I was very glad I lived in a place where voters could hold officials accountable, but it didn't matter to me if I could vote.

Now what if I lived in a city with lots of people in the same position that I was in. How would it differ? If the officials who ran the police, the courts, etc were accountable to voters in Canada, I could still live someplace with the benefits of democratic governance and accountability.

The political model in post-WWII Hong Kong under the British was one in which residents could not vote but administrators were accountable to voters who weren't residents. It was a very interesting hybrid, and very different from authoritarian rule.

This model could work well in some situations. Imagine Shiite and Sunni immigrants living in a charter city administered by Canadians. The immigrants might prefer to have Canadian voters hold accountable the people who run the police rather than having political contests between the Sunni and Shiites to see who gets to be in charge. If the contests are local, this can be very destabilizing and can lead to ethnic cleaning of neighborhoods.

Over time, the Sunni and Shiite immigrants should participate in local democracy in the same way as Canadians. But they might want to wait until local norms of nonviolence and tolerance are well established before putting the police under the control of a person who wins a local election.

Q. What do you think is the argument for Charter Cities that trumps these possible complications?

A. Consider once again the photo of students who lack electricity in their homes and end up studying under streetlights. This represents a huge missed opportunity. These students deserve a chance to reach their full potential. The technology exists and the rules that can make it accessible are well known.

Now scale this example to many different areas -- freedom from crime, access to safe water, a chance for children to get an education, a chance to get a job -- and hundreds of millions of people. I don't see any objection that could possibly justify failure to pursue such an enormous opportunity.

It's also low risk. Charter cities increase access to existing rules and technologies by giving people new options and letting them choose. Charter cities also give leaders new options for improving governance, options they do not have in the existing web of bad rules to which they are confined. Choice protects them both from the worst possible outcomes.

Choice and the potential to copy existing ideas are a powerful combination. All that’s holding us back from making full use of these mechanisms is a failure of imagination.

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The Newest Global Religion

The world economy with its multiple crises is a frightening place. To confront our fears, we have a new global religion. It developed slowly over the last couple decades, based on the sacred writings of the world’s leading shamans. The shamans have been releasing a new scripture of prophecy and comfort every year after secluding themselves in a remote location for several days of prayer and reflection. There used to be only seven of these shamans, and they were known for short as the G7. As of their latest retreat to the Burgh of Pitt last weekend, the number of shamans has grown to G20.

This year’s scripture, called The Communiqué, was the longest in G-ism history at 15 pages. It offered prayers of healing for many different ailments, from the pestilent OTC Derivative Contracts to the noxious Gas Emissions. It condemned the unholy Excessive Compensation in the Financial Sector as well as the evil Non-Cooperative Jurisdictions.

One of the greatest attractions of the G-ist religion is its concern for the poorest among us. G20 reserved their most fervent prayers of comfort and restoration for those who newly suffer, such as those who now hunger when they did not before. There are 90 million more who go hungry than at last year’s G-shaman meeting, after the Great Backsliding of 2008, whereupon “the financial crisis followed close on the heels of a global spike in food prices…{when} even before the crisis, too many still suffered from hunger …{and} recognizing the crisis has exacerbated this situation.” G20 offer to feed the hungry with GPAFS, CAADP, UNCFA, IDA, ADB, NGOs, FAO, IFAD, and WFP, using the holy mysteries of “coordinate efforts,” and “country-led mechanisms,” and “complement and reinforce other existing multilateral and bilateral efforts” (page 11, verse 39 of The Communiqué).

G20ism has proven to be tolerant and inclusive of other religions. According to a story in the Florida Catholic:

Most people in high levels of government “really do want to do the right thing for the poor. They really do have a moral compass,” said Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace, at a press conference in Pittsburgh Sept. 23. Part of the power of prayer and bringing together religious leaders at such an event is “the belief that we can influence people,” he said. Some 30 leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths attended the press conference before processing in full clerical garb to the Omni William Penn Hotel to meet with representatives of the U.S. delegation to the G–20 summit.

Alas, there are still many who do not believe, even mocking the true faith of the G20. The nonbelievers claim that reason and evidence is the best path to alleviate suffering, rather than belief in the mystical powers of the G-shamans.

The evidence on increased hunger numbers is a wee bit shaky when the last reliable numbers on undernourishment are from 2003 to 2005. Nor is hunger either necessarily the result of the crisis or a black and white categorization. Most malnutrition is chronic, not crisis-driven, and includes many different categories of nutritional deficiency, such as vitamin A deficiency, as well as not having enough to eat.

Then to make things worse, even the crisis narrative on hunger is faulty: the food price spike crisis and the global recession are not additive but partially offsetting. Global food prices in real terms fell because of the global recession to pre-spike levels (although lower income because of the crisis of course makes buying food more difficult).

Faith-based analysis leads to faith-based actions. Only the most fanatical G20-ist religionists could believe that more Coordinations, Frameworks, Partnerships and Programmes will feed the hungry.

To show the contrast between G20-ism and reason & evidence, here are two questions that address hunger:

(1) If you are an aid agency that covers hunger, exactly what is your excuse for not meeting the unmet needs for nutritional and vitamin supplements? These supplements are cheap, they have been demonstrated to work, and they fit well into other aid programs like conditional cash transfers.

(2) If you are the US government, how can you take a solemn vow to feed the hungry when there ARE food emergencies and yet you still insist the food come from American farmers and shippers? This leads to months of delays while people are dying from hunger. Sometimes the food arrives after the emergency is over, and then makes sustainable future food supplies worse by driving food prices down and driving local farmers out of business.

G-ism has already survived for many years even though the G-shamans did not keep previous promises. That is the tragedy of faith without reason.

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R2P: A Priest, A Linguist, and an Economist Walk into the General Assembly…

Miguel D'Escoto, GA president

What kind of issue would cause a left-wing priest, a radical linguist, and a free market economist to take the same side? The answer: opposition to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at the United Nations. The priest is the nutty General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto, the linguist is the flaming radical Noam Chomsky, and the economist is the sensible young academic Christopher Coyne.

R2P is the principle that the international community should intervene to protect people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity if their own governments fail to do so. It has been official UN doctrine since 2005, and the UN General Assembly debated its renewal last week.

Most of the discussion about R2P is normative: should we rescue people from genocide and war crimes? Of course we should. How can anyone familiar with Auschwitz, Cambodia, and Rwanda feel otherwise?

What D’Escoto, Chomsky, and Coyne all do is shift the debate from normative (how should people behave?) to positive (how do people actually behave?) They ask, who is the “we” in the normative statement above going to be, and how will they behave? D’Escoto started the General Assembly debate by asking the positive questions:

(1) Is it more likely that the principle would be applied only by the strong against the weak?

(2) Will adoption of the R2P principle in the practice of collective security more likely enhance or undermine respect for international law?

(3) Does it guarantee that states will intervene to prevent another Rwanda?

(4) Do we have the capacity to enforce accountability upon those who might abuse the right that R2P would give nation-states to resort to the use of force against other states?

Chomsky and D’Escoto both conclude that, in practice, R2P is just Great Power imperialism in disguise. Although a lot of other statements by these two are nuts, this conclusion is not completely crazy. After all, any intervention has to be approved by the Great Powers that sit on the UN Security Council.

Christopher Coyne, who wasn't actually present at the UN R2P debate last week, and does not share the leftist paranoia of Chomsky and D’Escoto, does arrive at similar positive conclusions. He wrote a paper about the “Nirvana fallacy,” the assumption of a perfect intervener. So in the R2P case, Nirvana is a neutral, benevolent, all-knowing, powerful, rapid, humanitarian force that will identify and rescue those at risk. A positive analysis would conclude that no such Nirvana exists or ever will exist, and that the likely answers to D’Escoto’s questions are (1) Yes, (2) Don’t Know, so Be Careful (3) No, and (4) No.

There is plenty of space between “Never Again” and “Never Intervene.” There are probably some situations where some Power can rescue innocents from war crimes, and we personally would move Heaven and Earth to support them. But the advocates of R2P as a general principle have a long way to go to explain how they will turn the normative into the positive.

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The Tragedy of the Millennium Development Goals

The United Nations today issued its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report 2009. To make a long story short, the accompanying press release says:

The assessment, launched today by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva, warns that, despite many successes, overall progress has been too slow for most of the targets to be met by 2015.

Let’s face it: it’s over. The MDGs will not be met (the above statement was based on trends BEFORE the economic crisis hit, see crisis discussion below).

What went wrong? The UN was very successful in getting lots of people interested in global poverty who had not been interested previously. An enormous advocacy campaign resulted (see the video from YouTube above). The enthusiasm of the young and of many public figures was deeply inspiring.

What was the theory of social change behind the advocacy of the MDGs? Political advocacy is most successful when you can identify WHO is to blame for an injustice, and WHY (according to what principle) the situation is unjust. This points to WHAT the WHO should do.

The trinity of WHO/WHY/WHAT worked for positive social change, for example, for movements such as the American Revolution, the abolition of the slave trade, slave emancipation, the extension of the vote to the working class, the women’s rights movement, the end of colonialism, the civil rights movement, and gay rights.

WHO is to blame for missing the MDGs? Advocates enthusiastically advertised that 189 leaders signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000, but that was actually a sign of weakness rather than strength. Does an agreement have teeth when EVERYONE agrees – including many oppressive governments who had no more interest in alleviating poverty than in promoting Brussels sprouts? And if the agreement is broken, how can you find WHO is to blame, when 189 leaders (not to mention dozens of international organizations and NGOs) are COLLECTIVELY responsible?

The WHY and the WHAT were also murky, since there is little consensus on what causes poverty and how to end it. The responsibility is put on governments (see the YouTube video, for example), but the rest is unclear (WHICH one? WHAT should they do?)

The MDGs only content is that certain outcomes should be achieved by 2015, but all of these outcomes depend on many other factors besides government actions. The effect of the current crisis is a case in point. No doubt the crisis will be used as the excuse for the MDG failure (as the UN MDG 2009 report is already doing). But the MDGs’ attainment depended all along on global and national economic growth. How can you hold somebody accountable for something they don’t control? – that’s not true accountability at all. (Even someone as dense as yours truly pointed out this flaw long before the current crisis came along.)

The inspirational enthusiasm and increased efforts surrounding the MDGs probably did contribute to progress on specific efforts and some partial success stories (mainly in health and education), as pointed out in the UN MDG 2009 report. That can give some hope for the future and some solace to the hard-working and deeply committed participants.

But the point of the MDG campaign was that it precisely defined success and failure using specific goals. So on its own terms, it is a failure.

The MDGs will go down in history as a success in global consciousness-raising, but a failure in using that consciousness for its stated objectives. What a tragedy for all of those who contributed such effort and enthusiasm to the MDG campaign. And a much larger tragedy for the world’s poor.

Why waste any more effort on the MDGs, now that we know they will not be met? The next effort should get the WHO/WHY/WHAT clear. Here’s one suggestion for starters: the WHO is aid agencies, the WHY principle is that they are responsible for these funds entrusted to them to reach the poor, the WHAT is transparency on whether the funds did reach the poor. It is unjust that funds intended for the poorest of the poor wind up enriching somebody else not poor. Let’s have a movement protesting THAT injustice.

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Response from tourism operator to "Should starving people be tourist attractions"

Dear William, While it is generally a pleasure to get to know you, the circumstances are rather sad. I thank you, nevertheless, for inviting me personally to respond to your blog. I'm the Director of the Eos Visions network that got under fire here and - and I'm happy to admit it - the author of the brochure that you and several of your commentators criticize to a point that verges on insult.

I read Ms. Wade's article closely (and will post a response there as well). As a fellow entrepreneur, I can certainly understand her personal problem with the way she was apparently approached by an MVP representative. In fact, our tourism project is doing exactly the opposite - responding to a market demand as I will explain below and just as she does business herself. On top of that - especially as the part-time academic that I also am - I can also understand her general feelings about the MVP approach as a whole (I'll get back to this point later because it is also relevant to your own blog). I also have my doubts about the general sustainability, even though "having doubts" does not necessarily mean "being ready to judge". Where Ms. Wade goes totally wrong, however, is the jumping to conclusions when it comes to our tourism project and the related brochure. Josh Ruxin has already pointed out in his response above that Ms. Wade was totally misguided and misinformed, and used her personal grudge against the MVP to maliciously attack our tourism project and, thereby, our work as a whole.

And, unfortunately, I believe that your blog has taken this even further. Have you ever thought about the reasons why our brochure might display the rules that it displays? Have you ever even tried to understand what the entire tourism project is all about? Well, my first reaction to your blog was total disbelief and rising anger. By now I'm actually grateful for this opportunity to explain our concepts (and the results!) to an audience that - as several of the commentators have pointed out - is certainly not the audience we intended for the brochure. And I can already say at this point: I'd like to officially invite you (and everybody else who was happily throwing criticism around without ever having been on the tour or having talked to those involved) to join one of our tours in the future. You'd be surprised! We even talk about general MVP critics like yourself and their arguments on our tour...

But please allow me to provide a bit more information, adding on what Josh has already written above. When I first visited Mayange, the site of Rwanda's Millennium Village, in 2006, it was a totally desperate area. Among the many obvious problems, one stood out for me, the young social entrepreneur: There was not a single shop to be seen anywhere in the entire area. I was not able to buy anything. The mentality of the community members was entirely relying on hand-outs. My Rwandan (!) partners were equally astonished, and we vowed that we would try to play our role as a private sector company to contribute to a mentality change and allow the community members to help themselves. I then got to know Josh who invited our Rwandan team to get involved and to work with the community members so that they could essentially shape an experience that was, after all, in growing demand. Why? Well, a lot of people (both supporters and critics alike) wanted to learn more about the MVP and its concepts - if only to understand if they really make sense or not. This demand came to Josh and his team, and they basically took a variety of people to the Village, without any real structure and without any coherent way of allowing the community members to participate, to shape the visit and (!) to benefit from it! It was rather clear from the outset that our company as such did not seek any material benefits out of this work - but we were more than happy to become involved because we are a social enterprise and because similar projects are part and parcel of our daily (social) activities. Hence, there was a market (people interested in learning about the MVP approach) and there was a community that was in strong need of an experienced partner in order to help them structure the visits and benefit from them.

Over the course of various months, our Rwandan team facilitated a process of founding a tourism cooperative that now has over 200 members and is entirely managed and run by the community members themselves. We signed MOUs with the cooperative and with the local authorities who vowed to provide their support. We worked with the cooperative members, trained them on a variety of issues (general introductions, presentation skills, guiding skills, language skills, hospitality and customer care, hygiene, environmental management and so on) and also asked them to discuss in participatory ways what we should pass on to the visitors in terms of do's and don'ts. Well, the rules that Ms. Wade, you and some of your commentators are finding so appalling are actually a result of this. The community members found it important to discourage any kind of hand-outs because they knew that they would only encourage more begging and would never achieve the desired mentality change towards more entrepreneurship. They found it equally important to hint to the general cultural issue that it is contrary to local traditions everywhere in Rwanda (and specifically in this region because of the recurrent incidences of malnutrition) to eat or drink in public. You will certainly agree that we - and our clients - should respect the local culture and especially the express wishes of the community. You will hopefully admit that claiming that we do not look at Rwandans living in the MV as "individuals who possess rights and human dignity" BECAUSE of these rules, is outrageous. It would certainly have been better to inform yourself before attacking us and our reputation...

And since you and, even stronger, one of the commentators mentioned that the results are merely good intentions (our "self-proclaimed" 70% profit sharing etc), I'm happy to share the full statistics with you and to show that our little contribution has been well documented and is actually rather significant - contrary to what especially the commentator seems to believe. Over the first 18 months of the project, there were 488 visitors taking a tour of the MV, organized, run and guided by the community members (!!!), with our own guide facilitating the visit and providing additional introductions and information. The experience did expressly NOT include "viewing" the life of the villagers or anything related to poverty or the like. Visitors don't enter homes, and there are absolutely no "voyeuristic" elements involved anywhere. On the contrary, community members take the visitors to various interventions sites where they explain MVP interventions through their own eyes, how the situation used to be before the MVP arrived, what the MVP taught them and how the situation has changed since them. The "tourism product" (if you allow me to use this term) therefore becomes the set of interventions through the local eyes - nothing else, not "poverty porn", no "zoo" and so on. Back to the figures: The 488 visitors paid an average of just below USD 67, a total of USD 33,085. Roughly USD 17,540 were spent on various costs related to the tour, so that a profit remained of roughly USD 15,545. Of this, the community received no less than USD 12,328 or 79.3% (i.e. even more than our promised 70%). I don't know what you think about this, but I believe that over USD 12,000 in 18 months earned through entrepreneurial ventures by a local community that previously did not even have a shop to sell anything is a huge success!! On top of this comes another significant amount for the sale of handicrafts and food items. How was the money disseminated? Well, again we merely facilitated the decision making of the community. They decided that those villagers who are actively involved in presenting and guiding some of the interventions should receive individual remuneration for their service. Groups involved in the activities are paid as groups. Additionally, the community has installed funds for education, health care and general community development (the latter being used e.g. for the construction of homes for the most vulnerable members of the community). Everything is completely accounted for and I could give you exact figures broken down into all these various dissemination mechanisms. Equally importantly, we can see a huge amount of positive immaterial impacts. These include, among many others, the desired mentality change towards more entrepreneurship, stronger local ownership of the entire MVP approach, cultural benefits through a revitalization of arts, crafts, dance and music, and even reconciliation and peace building on a small level.

I truly hope, William, that you are now able to acknowledge that you based your judgment on false conceptions and missing information about our work. You will have noted that I did not attempt to protect or justify the MVP as a whole. As mentioned in the beginning, we have as many doubts as you have. But we still believe that the concept deserves a chance and that it has to prove itself right or wrong. The tourism project has nothing to do with Jeffrey Sachs and his team - they merely invited us to work with the MV community and provided some support (we especially worked with their own community mobilizers). Beyond this, the MVP concepts are not important to us and we ensure that the visitors receive an unbiased view that even talks about criticism from the likes of you. The tour is truly educational and informative - and it provides wonderful opportunities for the local community. I do hope that also the very critical commentators will have found a different perspective on what they call "poverty tourism" or even "poverty porn". Our project is anything but an excursion to the zoo. And calling us "condescending" is a real insult if you really understand our concepts and philosophies.

Let me finish once again by inviting you to visit the project with us. Who knows, you might even learn something yourself about the MVP approach. Apart from that, I strongly encourage you to keep in touch and to do more research on tourism related to development. I may add that I gained my PhD looking at the question how we can "maximize the poverty-reducing impacts of tourism in Rwanda". Much of our current work under the Eos Visions umbrella relates to this. I'd be more than happy to interact more frequently with you on related matters. I also plan to publish our experiences and related statistics in the future in academic journals.

Kind regards,


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J’accuse: the US Army’s Development Delusions

soldiersinIraq.gif A wise economist that I met recently tipped me off that I would find the latest Army field manual interesting reading. He was more than right about that. The 2009 US ARMY STABILITY OPERATIONS FIELD MANUAL (available in a University of Michigan paperback as well as an earlier version online ) is remarkably full of utopian dreams of transforming other societies into oases of prosperity, peace, and democracy through the coordinated use of military force, foreign aid, and expert knowledge.

My usual MO is to ridicule such documents. But my wells of satire are starting to run dry after years of deployment against utopians like Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier. More in sorrow than in anger, I see the utopian social engineering craze might affect actions of people with guns. I am sad for Iraqis and Afghans that the U.S. Army is operating in their countries guided by such misguided ideas.

To document a little of what seems utopian, the foreword by Lieutentant General William B. Caldwell IV, Commander, US Army Combined Arms Center, says:

we will …defeat insurgency, assist fragile states, and provide vital humanitarian aid to the suffering. …. to promote participation in government, spur economic development, and address the root causes of conflict among the disenfranchised populations of the world….{with} a comprehensive approach to stability operations that integrates the tools of statecraft with our military forces, international partners, humanitarian organizations, and the private sector.

The Manual, with a foreword by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, says the US Army will be

leveraging the coercive…force to establish a safe and secure environment; …establish political, legal, social, and ….economic institutions; and help transition responsibility to a legitimate civil authority {my emphasis} operating under the rule of law…. toward long-term developmental activities where military forces support broader efforts in pursuit of national and international objectives.

The definition of a legitmate civil authority is then given:

Respects freedom of religion, conscience, speech, assembly, association, and press. Submits to the will of the people, especially when people vote to change their government. Maintains order within its own borders, protects independent and impartial systems of justice, punishes crime, embraces the rule of law, and resists corruption. Protects the institutions of civil society, including the family, religious communities, voluntary associations, private property, independent businesses, and a market economy.

Even in the most dysfunctional societies (“fragile states”):

national strategy aims to—Promote freedom, justice, and human dignity while working to end tyranny, to promote effective democracies, and to extend prosperity through free trade and wise development policies.

Who is going to do all this? The US Army is going to be assisted by other US government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, international and region organizations and the private sector, i.e people who have different approaches, different objectives, different incentives, and answer to different bosses, with no credible mechanism for coordination (the Manual suggests a “Civil-Military Operations Center”)

The danger is that, if put into practice, such delusions create excessive ambition, which creates excessive use of military force, which kills real human beings, Afghans and Iraqis.

US Army and Defense Department thinkers – please go back to the drawing board. Think about American values that guide us at home. These values don’t include utopian social engineering, and certainly not by outside armies.

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The vortex of vacuousness

A tragic law of global poverty is that the efforts of many well-meaning and accomplished people somehow get sucked down into meaningless activities and empty rhetoric. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried an oped by uber-heavyweights Madeline Albright and Colin Powell about how we should not forget about the world’s poor during the crisis. Their solution – another summit! Addressing the previously unappreciated shortage of summits by the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the G-7, the G-20, U2, and Bob Geldof, there is a two day summit starting today of something called the Initiative for Global Development (IGD) National Summit 2009 in Washington DC.

The closest thing to novelty about this summit is that the IGD includes (and was started by) leading business executives, some of whom apparently want to learn from diplomats and aid bureaucrats how to make compassionate statements about global poverty with no content. So Carly Fiorina on the IGD website proclaims “Reducing global poverty is in our nation’s best interest, and a sustained collaboration between the private sector and the government is needed in this regard.” (Presumably she had to be a tad more specific to get things done at HP.)

The IGD has been around since 2003, and includes a lineup of really big names from the worlds of business, government, and aid. Chairpersons Albright and Powell were able to distill all of this experience and talent in their signature Journal oped yesterday into new ideas like “we have to focus our efforts where they can have maximum impact, and draw on the strengths of the public and private sectors alike.”

(Maybe we should subject this statement to the NOT test for meaningful content we discussed in a previous blog post: Briefly consider whether there is anyone arguing “we need to focus our efforts where they can have MINIMUM impact, and draw on the WEAKNESSES of the public and private sectors alike.”)

The IGD helpfully provided Aid Watch some background materials on the 2009 Summit, which has the subtitle “Business leaders advance a bold strategy to reduce global poverty.” They acknowledge the critical need for foreign aid reform, so “Congress and the administration should work together to define a coherent strategy for U.S. foreign assistance and streamline its implementation.” (Reader exercise: apply the NOT test to this statement.) They only get a bit more specific when they endorse the ritual call for a doubling of foreign aid.

Something that sounds slightly more promising is that the IGD summit invited some 20 African CEOs of private businesses. Let’s hope they can get the things that real businessmen want, new deals and investments, in return for being subjected to two days of summiteering. Maybe a few CEOs at IGD are starting to get a glimmer of insight – business leaders should not imitate aid bureaucrats, it should be the other way around.

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Response to "Does God Believe in Jeff Sachs"?

I invited Jay Lawlor, the head of Millennium Congregations, and Jonathan Denn, the head of CountingPrayers.Org to respond to the blog post. I have not heard yet from Mr. Lawlor, but Mr. Denn responded. His letter follows: Dear Professor Easterly,

Thank you for notifying me of your blog, and the invitation to respond. I was most sorry to hear of your severe crisis of faith, hopefully this will be of solace.

A couple corrections, I am the author of the The Counting Prayer {EDITOR INSERT: “The world now has the means to end extreme poverty, we pray we will have the will.”} As of this morning almost 1.5 million Counting Prayers have been offered in The Prayer Vigil to End Extreme Poverty and on the Billion Prayer March (endorsed by the United Religions Initiative, uri.org). I am not a clergy person but I have a deep and abiding spirituality about eliminating the suffering caused by abject poverty. I am, also, the author of the "sin against the Creator" quote. I believe we are unambiguously obligated to help our neighbors as evidenced by over 2000 mentions about alleviating poverty in the Bible. I also find common ground about poverty alleviation (if for slightly different reasons) with my secular humanist brothers and sisters.

I believe God believes in all of us, rich and poor, even economists with disagreements, and that God believes we will act to eliminate suffering. We may fail but we must not stop trying.

I live in a simple world. People trapped in poverty need a clinic so family members can stop dying prematurely of easily preventable causes. The next morning when they rise and illness is not crippling their family these folks can get on with making life better for themselves. To do that they need dependable access to fertilizer, seed, water, and then when they finally have something to trade, someone to do it with. Oh, and a road to get to market.

The world has long had the wealth and knowledge to lift up our disadvantaged brothers and sisters to clear this very low bar. We merely lack the will, and in the past the expertise.

In 2002, the United States entered into the Monterey Consensus to provide zero point seven percent of na tional household income to the poorest nations to help with developing these necessary infrastructures. Only Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have kept their promise, the U.S. is tied for a distant last place with Japan. Relief work is essential but without development it is unfortunately eternal. Without development there can be no self-sufficiency.

I believe that if every person of faith (or conviction) made up their pro-rata share of their countries' shortfall, what I call the Millennium Tithe, that we would indeed soon see an end to extreme poverty, at least in the countries with relatively stable governments. And, that would be an incentive for other countries to enact stabilizing policies. I believe this to be a communion of humanity, secular and religious working together to end easily preventable, extreme poverty (misery).

Our Millennium Tithe would amount to about $15 per household per month (equal to two movie tickets), and I would suggest tithers find the highest yield development projects to fund, those with proven effectiveness and efficiencies and verifiable results. These are increasingly coming from secular NGOs, and there are most impressive results coming from the Millennium Village Project, of which I am a volunteer Ambassador. If I were to find an organization with a better poverty solution metric I would then volunteer my time to help them. If you have a better model, I would be happy to volunteer my time to you. For volunteer I must to the best action takers.

What is the theology of not vigilantly supporting and/or advocating the most effective poverty solutions available?


Jonathan Denn


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Asian Success Mythology

The blog yesterday provoked a lot of healthy debate about my claim that industrialization is mainly market-driven rather than state-driven, using Korea, China, and India as examples of industrialization out of poverty. I know I am going against the conventional wisdom of the great Asian “developmental state,” authoritarian and heavily involved in planning industrialization. So let me explain why. When I said we can only test what works on average, I am talking about what propositions are testable and falsifiable, using Karl Popper’s definition of what is “real” science. There is no way to test policies if you allow what works to be different in every year and every country, since a hypothesis about ANY policy will always fit the data perfectly under this assumption. I am not implying imposing the same blueprint everywhere, since “what works” is usually too general and can only guide general policy orientation. Of course, I agree that context matters a lot and so policy-makers should use whatever alternative sources of information or political instinct they have available to adjust the policy orientation to local circumstances.

So my general claim is that heavy reliance on markets is associated with long-run success, using as data the Asian successes, the earlier European and North America/Australia/New Zealand successes, the failure of non-market central planning in the Communist Bloc, and the failures of statist policies in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. It is true that Asian successes used state intervention more than the earlier European examples, but on average state intervention does poorly across all countries, so we have no Popper-standard evidence that state intervention contributed to their success. So my claim is based on evidence, not ideology.

We could also test industrial policy using within-country data. A well-known old study by Korean economist Jong-Wha Lee ("Government Interventions and Productivity Growth," Journal of Economic Growth, 1(3), September 1996, 391-414) found that government-favored sectors in South Korea actually had worse productivity growth than those that were not government-favored.

There is also the fact that South Korea (which had populist policies in the 1950s), India, and China had rapid growth after they shifted towards much LESS state intervention in the economy. I’m not sure that this one would pass the Popper test, however, since economists’ attempts to explain short- to medium-run shifts in growth have not been very successful world wide.

Now, let's go back to country data and look at the suggestion that we focus only on the success stories in East Asia. This has indeed been the predominant approach and has reinforced what I think is the fallacious conventional wisdom on the "industrial policy success" in East Asia. Looking only at the successes causes "survivor bias" about what really works.

Suppose we have a group of drivers leave New York at the same time to drive to Washington, and we interview the first 5 drivers who arrive in Washington. We find that they drove Lamborghinis at 150 mph, weaving in and out of traffic down the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95, out-running Highway Patrol cars who tried to stop them. Are they models for success getting from New York to Washington?

No, because since we only studied the “successful” first 5 drivers to arrive, we didn’t know about the vast majority of Lamborghini “failures” – the drivers who got into fatal accidents or were caught by the Highway Patrol and jailed for insanely reckless driving. On average, this approach was a disaster. On average, soccer moms driving mini-vans outperformed the Lamborghini drivers, if we study BOTH successes and failures.

So Asian success either happened in spite of statist industrial policy, not because of it, or industrial policy was an incredibly risky strategy that usually fails but occasionally has big successes, possibly in East Asia.

Either view would help explain why a huge amount of effort spent imitating East Asian success stories has NOT successfully replicated that success anywhere else.

So I stand by my claim that the 66-year-old idea of state-promoted industrialization has failed, and that it was irresponsible of Collier and UNIDO to resurrect it as a “major conceptual breakthrough.”

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